Chris's Weblog – City Chickens

Dahlia – Pompon Snowflake & Decorative Crazy Love

We paid a visit to Wilkos on this very snowy morning with the intention of buying a cat carrier. I came back with my first flower buy of this year in the form of a Dahlia Tuber. White Dahlia Pompon Snowflake. According to the package these Pompom Dahlias produce fabulous double spherical blooms and so I am looking forward to seeing them in my garden this year. Each flower head is made up of layers of silky, inwardly curved petals creating a perfectly formed sphere. Tall sturdy stems provide excellent support and give the pompon its iconic habit of bobbing in the breeze. Dahlias are quite easy to grow requiring only  well-drained soil and a sunny position. The advice is to dig in manure or compost and top with general purpose fertiliser for best results. Dahlias are invaluable for the summer border, in patio containers or as cut flowers, often flowering until the first frosts. Flowering from July to October these plants can reach a height of 3′. I have grown Dahlias before many years ago at the allotment but this one looks spectacular. I plan to plant these tubers in a large container in March, weather permitting.

I have planted the Dahlias is a large pot of multi purpose compost. Along with Snowflake I have planted another decorative Dahlia called Crazy Love. This looks a beautiful flower with white pointy petals edged with lilac. Dahlia tubers can be planted outside after frost or started off in pots in late winter to early spring. Allow enough room between each tuber so the plants can grow and spread to their full size without being over crowded. I am trying to keep the compost moist whilst the pot is still indoors and already bright green shoots are appearing through the soil. I can’t wait to see them in flower.

While in growth provide a high nitrogen liquid feed each week in June then a high-potash fertiliser each week from July to September. Stake with canes or brushwood if it becomes necessary. Dead head regularly to encourage more and bigger flower heads. In mild areas, leave them in situ over winter, but protect the crown with a generous layer of dry mulch. In colder areas, carefully lift and clean the tubers once the first frosts have blackened the foliage and allow them to dry naturally indoors. Then place the dry tubers in a shallow tray, just covered with slightly moist potting compost, sand or vermiculite and store in a frost-free place until planting out again.






Roast Marinated Topside of Beef

After Christmas I picked up a bargain joint of beef from Lidl and it has been sitting in the freezer until now. It’s Sean’s birthday on Monday and I thought they may just visit on Sunday so I have put the beef to marinate ready to cook a roast.

A marinade is a mixture of acid, oil, herb and spice. It’s designed to impart flavor and tenderise meat. There is an endless list of combinations that can be the difference between dry meat and a succulent meat.

The acid – Vinegar, acidic fruit juices like lemon or wine are the acidic components in the marinade that tenderise meats. They also play an important part in imparting flavor. An example of a high acid wine is Champagne or a zesty white wine. Use low acid marinades when marinating overnight. Go with a low acid wine. Too much time on acid can turn the meat from tender to mushy.

The fat – Apart from extra virgin olive oil and butter, there many other kinds of oils to consider such as sesame oil, peanut oil, grapeseed oil, etc. Each type of oil has a different flavor and smoke point which is something you’ll want to consider.

Herbs – The herbs and aromatic vegetables will impart the floral, vegetal, earthy and even fruity characteristics into your meat. Zest is the shaved skin of an orange, lemon or lime and an excellent way to add flavours.

The spice – Spices add heat and aromas and enhance flavours. Salt and pepper will always be your base but there are many other choices to throw into the mix. Many components in spices such as capsaicin in pepper and  vanilla are more soluble in fat or alcohol than in water. Since meat is up to 75% water using oil and alcohol in your marinades helps to better dissolve the spices and integrate them into the meat.

  • Acid – 1 cup wine
  • Fat – ½ cup oil
  • Herbs – 1 tablespoon
  • Spice – 2 tablespoons of salt

Your acid plus your oil should be enough to immerse the meat easily in a sealed container. It depends on how big the meat is but you want the final result to equal about 1 cup with half as much oil as acid. If you are planning on adding vinegar, lemon juice or Worcestershire sauce as well, you will only need ¼ of a cup. With something more pungent like Dijon mustard or overly-sweet like honey, then only 2 tablespoons are required. Whisk the acid, oil, dry herbs and spices in a  glass bowl until well integrated and the salt is fully dissolved. Gently add the fresh herbs last. If you need to increase volume to completely submerge your meat add it in the wine. Leave to marinate from 2 hours to overnight depending on the size of the meat.

When ready to roast allow the meat to approach room temperature. Whatever your method of preparation, the meat should now be thoroughly tenderised and well-flavored. I melt a little beef dripping in my meat dish and then add a chopped onion, celery, parsnips and carrot into the tin placing the beef on top. Spread mustard over the meat, I use the cheap Sainsbury’s basic for this job, then cover the whole tin with foil sealing the edges. Cook for and hour per kilogram. Today my joint is 2.5kg so I am cooking at 180 for 90 minutes before getting it out and basting before replacing in the oven to brown.

I shall serve with green vegetables, roast potatoes, boiled potatoes and mash.  The gravy is amazing made with the juices from the meat dish.


Angel Cake

When I was about ten years old I went to a birthday party with my Sister and my Mother. The little girl whose party it was has long ago disappeared from my memory but I have an unforgettably vivid memory of her birthday cake. It must have been the first time that I had seen or eaten an angel cake. Pure white cake covered in pure white icing. Apart from Mr Kipling’s White Frosted Fancies, a poor substitute, which always appear in the shops in the month before Christmas, I have never eaten this angelic delight since and so set about finding a good recipe. I am determined to have a try with this recipe and cover it with white icing and desiccated coconut.

Angel cake is a white sponge cake made only with stiffly beaten egg whites and no butter. Apparently, the first recipe in a cookbook for a white sponge cake is in Lettice Bryan’s The Kentucky Housewife of 1839.





  • 4½oz plain flour
  • 10½oz caster sugar
  • 10 large free-range egg whites
  • 2 large lemon grated zest only
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp cream of tartar
  • ½ tsp salt


  • Preheat the oven to 180 and arrange an oven shelf in the bottom third of the oven.
  • Sift the flour and 3½oz of caster sugar together in a bowl and set aside.
  • Whisk the egg whites in a large bowl on a high speed for one minute until frothy.
  • Add lemon zest, lemon juice, cream of tartar and salt and continue whisking for 2-3 minutes, or until soft peaks form when the whisk is removed from the bowl.
  • Increase the speed and add the remaining 7oz of caster sugar, one tablespoon at a time to form firm, but not stiff peaks.
  • Add a third of the flour mixture and fold gently to combine. Repeat with the remaining flour mixture folding gently to keep as much air in the mixture as possible.
  • Do not be tempted to grease the tin as it will prevent the cake from rising properly
  • Transfer the batter to a 10in angel cake pan. Gently run a knife through the centre of the batter to remove any pockets of air. Cook for 45-50 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
  • Remove from the oven and immediately turn upside down onto the tin’s cooling legs. Leave to cool for at least one hour.
  • Leave to cool on a wire rack.

Quick and Simple Apple Pie

After all the rich food of Christmas I have made an apple pie for after dinner today. My apple pie could be called boring but I prefer to call it quick, simple and satisfying. Ever since the first time I used Sainsbury’s short crust pastry block I haven’t gone to the trouble of making my own pastry from scratch. It is my opinion that it cant be beaten. I usually buy the pastry when it is selling for £1 and put some in the freezer. Move to the fridge the night before you want to use it then leave at room temperature for a couple of hours.

I always use English Bramley Apples and just at the moment they are plentiful and good. I do have my own tree in the garden and have enjoyed the few apples that I have been able to pick from the garden. I like to soften the apples in a saucepan with lots of sugar and lemon juice. Always taste a little of the filling to be sure that its perfect.  I find two large Bramley’s is enough for my pie plate. I cut the pastry block in half and after buttering the plate I roll the pastry out quite thinly and make the base, trimming around the edges. I then  put the cooled filling onto the base and brush a little water around the edges to get a good seal when placing the pastry lid on. Decorate as you like either with just a pinched edging and a good sprinkle of sugar or brush with beaten egg to taste. Serve with cream, ice cream or custard.


Look Up Stretch Up – 2018

I am a great believer in the benefits of Hatha Yoga and having had to have a break from it during the time I was looking after Adam I was eager to get started again. However, it was a good twelve months after he passed away before I felt strong enough to go back to my class. I knew it would take time to get back to fitness, especially at my age, but was determined to try. Now my teacher and the rest of my class mates are, to be polite, quite mature ladies. After a few weeks of puffing and panting and trying to get back to a semblance of fitness my teacher became ill. She had been battling cancer in my absence and had a relapse. At 80 years old she is still a strong woman but classes have been suspended for the foreseeable future. I am on my own. I know what I have to do but haven’t been doing it. On top of this my winter belly is stopping me from touching my toes and cutting my toenails. Drastic action is required. Advice from those who know is to practice little and often and to have a sequence or a plan in mind before you start. Quiet time, space and comfortable clothes are essential. I found the header image online so I hope the lady doesn’t mind.

Kalms – Herbal Medicine for PTSD and Insomnnia

Life, for the majority of us, is littered with tragedies and mine is no exception. Like most I have tried to count my blessings and carry on. However I have been persuaded  to get some help in the form of Kalms. Update – One month on and I have to say that the Kalms have definitely helped me to get some undisturbed sleep. I only take one at bedtime and as if by magic the flashbacks seem to be much less and some nights not there at all.
  • Kalms is a traditional herbal medicinal product used for the  relief of symptoms of stress, mild anxiety,  irritability and sleep disturbances.
  • Kalms Lavender One-A-Day Capsules is a traditional herbal medicine used for the temporary relief of  mild anxiety, stress and nervousness.
  • Kalms Night and Kalms  One-a-Night are traditional herbal medicinal products used for the temporary relief of sleep disturbances.
All contain Valerian Root, Gentian and Hops.


Valerian is a perennial flowering plant, with heads of sweetly scented pink or white flowers that bloom in the summer. Its flower extracts were used as a perfume in the 16th century. Valerian has soothing, calming properties which counteracts anxiety and has been used traditionally to promote sleep. Valerian, also known as Valeriana officinalis, is a flowering plant native to Europe and Asia. The root of the plant has long been used in herbal medicine for a variety of conditions such as sleeping difficulties, digestive complaints, anxiety and headaches.


Gentian, one of the bitter herbs, has been used by herbalists for over two thousand years to help stimulate liver function. It was named as a tribute to Gentius, an Illyrian king who was believed to have discovered that the herb had healing properties. Gentian root herb comes from the yellow gentian plant, Gentiana lutea. This European native produces wrinkled, light to dark brown roots commonly used to make health supplements.


The hop first attracted attention as a medicinal herb in early Egypt.  It was later used in Europe to treat liver disease and general digestive complaints. Hops have a long history of use in folk medicine where they have been used to treat a variety of complaints. For example, hops are thought to have a sedative action and have been traditionally used in hop pillows for the relief of insomnia. Also, hops have been used as herbal antibiotics and were incorporated into wound salves and anti-inflammatory compresses. Hops also have a long-standing reputation for their ability to affect women’s hormonal balance, being used in hop baths to treat menstrual disturbances. The list continues, with hops being reputed to alleviate migraines, earache, bed-wetting, leprosy, travel sickness, digestive problems, kidney stones and coughing. With so many cures ascribed to one plant, it is easy to see how many viewed them as old wives tales. However, over the last few years there has been a major change in attitudes. New technologies have been developed which allow the rapid and relatively inexpensive testing of chemicals both synthetic and natural as cures for chronic diseases. As a result, pharmaceutical researchers have taken an increased interest in herbal remedies in their hunt for new medicines.

Too Close For Comfort

This vixen is being seen in a garden very close to mine on a regular basis so the chickens have been confined to the run for the foreseeable future. They are showing signs of boredom already but at least they are safe. The lady who is feeding the fox assures me that she won’t be interested in my chickens as she is well fed however, it is a natural instinct for a fox to kill a chicken and this will be even more true come the spring when she has cubs to feed. I love to see foxes and think they are  beautiful creatures but I know that I need to be really vigilant to keep the hens safe from now on.


Felicia Amelloides Marguerite – Blue Kingfisher Daisy

This year Laura has introduced a new little gem to our flower collection in the form of a South African,  groundcover Marguerite. As well as being a pretty blue flower, the foliage is attractive and seems sturdy. Apparently although Felicia has a somewhat fragile appearance, this durable, pest-resistant plant requires little maintenance. Once the plant is established and shows healthy new growth an occasional watering is sufficient. Water deeply to saturate the roots then let the soil dry before watering again. Deadhead regularly to prevent the plant from going to seed for as long as possible. Prune the plant lightly when it begins to look tired in midsummer. The fluffy seed heads appear as late as November and can be collected or left to self seed. The common name of this little beauty is the Blue Kingfisher Daisy. I like it.


Peppered Steak in Red Wine


1 steak per person

4 heaped teaspoons of whole or crushed black peppercorns

4 tablespoons of olive oil

crushed garlic

300ml of red wine

For best results prepare your steak early and leave to marinate. Coarsely crush the peppercorns with a pestle and mortar.  Take a shallow dish large enough to hold your steaks comfortably side by side and pour 1 tablespoon of olive oil mixed with half a clove of crushed garlic into the dish. Coat each steak evenly on both sides with crushed peppercorns, pressing them in firmly. Lay the steaks in the dish and spoon the other tablespoon of oil and the rest of the garlic over them. Cover with Clingfilm and leave them on one side for several hours, turning them over once.
To cook the steaks use a thick based frying pan. Place it over a very high heat and let it preheat the hotter the better. Sear the steaks quickly on both sides for about a minute each side. Then lower the heat and cook them how you want them. 1 minute before the end of the cooking time pour in the wine and let it bubble and reduce down to a syrupy consistency to about one third of its original volume. This whole process will be very quick. Sprinkle with salt and serve the steaks as quickly as possible with the wine sauce poured over. Serve with chipped or sautéed potatoes and green salad, beans or peas.